Dies cinerum

I have to admit to a past jealousy of Catholics on Ash Wednesday. As a teenager on Long Island, New York, half of the school left early every Thursday (Church School) and, on a certain Wednesday in the Spring, would come back from lunch with an ashen cross on their foreheads.

One of the coolest middle schoolers I knew, Courtney, tossed her crazy blonde afro curls and, cross blazing, asked me if I was going to Ken’s party on Saturday. My gaze on the dark smudge, I answered vaguely. She asked me if something was wrong, but I was too intimidated by the brand to ask.

But I wanted one.

It was like some secret club, but those of us without ashes couldn’t work up the preteen courage to ask about. As an adult I don’t see a Biblical reason for it, (and it frankly smacks too loud of Pharisaic piety) though I do see the value in marking the Lenten season with some form of meditation or spiritual discipline.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten season in the Catholic church. Other denominations celebrate some parts of it, but the Catholic church really gets into it, going all out.  Based on the Old Testament practice of mourning and showing your contrition by throwing ashes on your head, in the Catholic rite the faithful attend mass and are marked with ashes on the forehead as a sign of their penitence.

The forty days until Easter are to be spent in meditation and fasting. Many people, even if they’re not big-C catholic, “give up” something as a way of denying themselves and refocusing on their priorities. Several bloggers I read are giving up blogging (the horror!). The idea is to give up the material or earthly thing you think you can’t live without, to discover why it is you can’t live without it.

Since R is Catholic, we’ll be attending Mass. We’ll also be fasting from meat on Fridays. I’d also like to incorporate some readings from the Word and perhaps nightly family prayer.

Any ideas for Lent? Are you giving something up?

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7 Responses to Dies cinerum

  1. KathyB! says:

    We gave things up for Lent growing up, and I never really felt as though it accomplished the purpose. With our own family I am not pushing it. If one of my kids wanted to experiment with it, I’d be all for it, though. Instead we take the time before Easter, starting on Ash Wed, to change up our pre-dinner prayer. It’ll be interesting to see what the kids think when they look back.

  2. Adriana says:

    I don’t know about the church you go to, but mine always has a book for the Lenten season that has daily reading and meditations. There is a similar book put out for advent. I used it last year and it was really good. if you manage to do it daily it really enriches the spiritual experience of Lent. Ask the office, they should have them.

    As for me I will be giving up sweets, meat on Fridays, and coffee from Dunkin Donuts – forcing me to brew my own coffee and get some “fiscal responsibility” in the household.

  3. minnesotameetskarnataka says:

    My sister and my aunt are saving their spare change and avoiding trinkets in order to send money to Heifer International.

    My aunt is also reading one of those daily Lenten devotionals Adriana mentioned.

    I like the idea of adding some sort of spiritual practice-prayer, Bible reading, etc. rather than giving something up.

    Can’t imagine giving up blogging!

    Oh, and my grandfather would always watch “Ben Hur” around Easter.

  4. evenshine says:

    minnie- we supported Heifer for Christmas. The point of giving something up is the whole thing. As humans we have so much “gimme gimme gimme” that it’s nice to have a less-is-more season. Lots of religions talk about denying oneself. There’s something purifying in it. Thanks for commenting! Glad to see you over here.

  5. faemom says:

    I always wondered why the Catholics did it when Jesus said not to show any outerly sign of mourning. When I finally asked a priest, he told me it was an interesting question. Thanks, Father, that helped bunches.

    With my strong Catholic background, I always tried to do something for Lent, never missing an Ash Wednesday, even when I took a “break” from religion to try to figure it all out. I was taught that we gave up something to change our lives or we added something. I tend to add something, like praying the rosary or this year getting us back to going to Mass. To give something up that you love is missing the point. To sacrifice something just to sacrifice is missing the point.

  6. evenshine says:

    I know- I’ve yet to hear a good reason for the “outward show”.

  7. David says:

    “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
    Reasons for ashes on ash Wednesday are lost, as are the reason for people wearing ashes and sackcloth for penitential reasons, or hair shirts for that matter (John the Baptist).

    Jesus’ point was that these things were not to be done in order to appear pious, but out of love for God. So Catholics who wear their ashes until they fall off do so, hopefully, with that in mind. If not, you can always go and wash them off after mass.

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